From 1909 to 1915 Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii embarked on a journey commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II to capture the Russian empire. With his innovative technique for capturing colored images, Prokudin-Gorskii was able to preserve a world that was beginning to change. In this particular photo, called Three Generations, Prokudin-Gorskii was able to capture a cultural shift by studying the different dress and hairstyles worn by A.P. Kalgonov (left) and his son and granddaughter. This photo and many others are available at the Library of Congress.
This photo was taken in the industrial town of Zlatoust in the Ural mountains. Kalgonov’s son and granddaughter worked at the Zlatoust Arms Plant. A view of the plant is shown above in the Prokudin-Gorskii’s photo titled General view of the Zlatoust plant and Trinity Cathedral. The arms plant supplied the Russian military with weapons since the early 1800’s.
The drastic differences in dress and hairstyles between Kalgonov and his son and granddaughter are what makes this photo particularly fascinating. Kalgonov fashions a traditional style whereas his son and granddaughter wear more modern and western styled clothing and hair. This generational shift in style can be attributed to a series of reforms in the mid to late 1800’s which jump-started the modernization and westernization of Russia. Some of these social reforms included emancipating serfs, and allowing non-nobles to receive an education. This led to non-nobles having access to civil and military service. This photo illustrates younger generations disillusioned by traditional Russian culture, who are creating a modernized Russian culture.
While Prokudin-Gorskii was aware of the differences between Kalgonov and his son and granddaughter, he could not predict the revolution which was soon to come. Prokudin-Gorskii completed his mission of capturing Tsar Nicholas II’s empire, but he was also able to capture a world that would soon be lost.
“Russia: A History,” Gregory L. Freeze.